Analysis | The Daily 202: Fuzzy math is still a big part of the bipartisan infrastructure deal – The Washington Post

Now that a revised infrastructure bill is moving through the Senate, negotiators have scrapped some of the budget maneuvers that had been criticized.

Instead, critics say, lawmakers have largely replaced many small accounting gimmicks with one much larger accounting gimmick counting events that have already occurred as creating “new” savings.

“Before, they were doing four or five gimmicks. Now they just picked one gimmick and just made it much bigger,” said Marc Goldwein, a budget expert at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan think tank. “So, maybe less in style points.”

Since the outset of bipartisan infrastructure negotiations, lawmakers have wanted to accomplish three things that are very hard to do simultaneously: Pay for a major new spending program, not raise new taxes, and claim their plan does not increase the federal deficit.

These constraints were political, not economic. 

Republican opposition made new taxes on the rich or corporations impossible. The White House quickly ruled out a gas tax, fearing it could hit drivers, as well as other levies on Americans earning under $400,000, in line with President Biden’s campaign promise. Spending cuts were also off the table. 

Accommodating those conflicting demands has produced some creative accounting that only became more strained as negotiations unfolded. 

Initially, the group discussed increasing Internal Revenue Service enforcement of tax cheats, since that would at least in the abstract not amount to a tax increase. The provision was estimated to raise more than $100 billion in new revenue. But that plan fell through amid GOP opposition and an intense opposition campaign from well-funded conservative groups, depriving lawmakers of a key revenue source.

The most important offset in the deal involves repurposing more than $260 billion in coronavirus relief aid previously approved by Congress. 

However, experts say much of the savings from coronavirus aid appear to derive from the difference between a program’s initial estimated cost and what was ultimately spent. That lower cost, when compared to what was first projected, is then claimed by the bipartisan lawmakers to represent savings that pay for the infrastructure package, even though those savings would materialize regardless of new legislation. While some coronavirus relief provisions ended up costing less than projected, others — not mentioned by the bill’s authors — ended up costing more.

The Congressional Budget Office, Congress’s nonpartisan scorekeeper, is expected to within days issue a report with a much more modest view of the impact of the proposed saving measures. 

Goldwein, of CRFB, estimated the deal only saves $50 billion in repurposed coronavirus aid, a fourth of what the proponents say. Donald Schneider, who served as chief economist to Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee, has estimated roughly $41 billion in unused coronavirus relief funds will be counted toward the overall savings. While negotiators say their plan raises as much as $540 billion, Schneider estimated it would raise $208 billion less than half of what’s claimed.

Many economists say it is unnecessary for lawmakers to offset the new spending with higher revenue. 

Interest rates remain low, which makes federal borrowing cheap, and nonpartisan experts say the nation’s infrastructure is badly in need of repair.

The bipartisan negotiators and White House officials have also defended their math. 

A White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to reflect internal dynamics, said there was agreement within the bipartisan group to not judge the cost of the measure by the forthcoming CBO score, although Democrats routinely cited the agency when denouncing President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax cuts. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) told my colleague Tony Romm that “people who want to vote for this know that it’s paid for.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) sexually harassed women, a report from the New York State attorney general found. “Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, including current and former government workers, and retaliated against at least one of the women for making her complaints public, according to a much anticipated report from the New York State attorney general released” this morning, the New York Times’s Luis Ferré-Sadurní and William Rashbaum report. “The 165-page report said that Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, and his aides cultivated a toxic work environment in his office that was rife with fear and intimidation, and helped enable ‘harassment to occur and created a hostile work environment.’ The findings of the report could fuel support for impeachment proceedings against Mr. Cuomo in the State Legislature, which Democrats overwhelmingly control, lead to additional calls for his resignation and influence public opinion as he considers running for a fourth term.”

More details from The Post’s Josh Dawsey: “The investigation found that Cuomo harassed 11 women, including state trooper. Joon Kim, the former acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York appointed by James as a special deputy to help lead the independent investigation, said that some women ‘suffered through unwanted touching and grabbing of their most intimate body parts. The executive chamber’s workplace culture was rife with bullying, fear and intimidation on one hand while normalizing frequent flirtations and gender-based comments by the governor on the other,’ Kim added.”

Lunchtime reads from The Post

  • Kim Jong Un’s mysterious head bandage fuels further speculation about his health,” by Jennifer Hassan: “North Korea’s Kim Jong Un was recently photographed out in public with what appeared to be a large green spot on the back of his head, once again fueling speculation about his health — long a topic of global fascination. Another image showed him sporting an oblong bandage over the mark. The bruise and bandage appeared toward the right side of the 37-year-old dictator’s head during a military meeting held July 24-27. … Kim has frequently faced speculation that he is in ill health despite the fact that he is not yet 40. … On April 15, 2020, Kim missed the most important date on the North Korean calendar, “The Day of the Sun,” a public holiday dedicated to the birthday of his grandfather. His absence was widely documented and intensified rumors that he was unwell.”
  • Maricopa County defies state subpoena seeking to expand GOP ballot review, calling it an ‘adventure in never-never land,’” by Rosalind S. Helderman: “Elected leaders in Arizona’s largest county responded defiantly Monday to a new subpoena issued by the state Senate that sought local computer routers and internal logs to bolster a GOP-commissioned review of the 2020 presidential election results. Senate President Karen Fann (R) has said the items are needed to conclude the controversial audit of the election in Maricopa County, which private contractors have been conducting on behalf of the Senate since April. County officials rejected her claim in a scathing letter. ‘It is now August of 2021. The election of November 2020 is over. If you haven’t figured out that the election in Maricopa County was free, fair, and accurate yet, I’m not sure you ever will,’ Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers (R) wrote in a letter to the Senate.”
  • As many Republicans try to rewrite history of Jan. 6 attack, Sen. Ron Johnson suggests FBI knew more than it has said,” by Mike DeBonis: “A Republican senator suggested in a private conversation Saturday, without evidence, that the FBI knew more about the planning before the Jan. 6 Capitol riot than it has revealed so far, according to a video obtained by The Washington Post. The comments from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), made after a political event at a Wauwatosa, Wis., hotel, reflect the spread of an unfounded claim that has traveled from far-right commentators to Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show to the highest levels of the GOP. ‘I don’t say this publicly, but are you watching what’s happening in Michigan?’ Johnson said while discussing the Capitol attack with some of the event’s attendees. ‘. . . So you think the FBI had fully infiltrated the militias in Michigan, but they don’t know squat about what was happening on January 6th or what was happening with these groups? I’d say there is way more to the story.’”
  • Larry Kudlow accused of racist, sexist remarks in Fox Business producer’s suit; Andrew Napolitano accused of harassment,” by the New York Daily News’s Leonard Greene: “Kudlow repeatedly made racist and sexist remarks during staff meetings and even blocked an on-air appearance by a Florida congressman because he is Black, according to a new lawsuit. Kudlow, a former top official in the Trump administration, told his Fox staff not to book U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) as a guest because he did not want ‘the Black’ on his show that day, according to a lawsuit by a Fox producer. That producer, John Fawcett, also alleged that Fox News contributor Andrew Napolitano sexually harassed him in an elevator in 2019, with network execs ignoring complaints. Napolitano, a former New Jersey judge, harassed other men at the network, according to Fawcett’s lawsuit.”
  • Jenner campaign in debt as California recall hits homestretch,” by Politico’s Jeremy B. White: “Caitlyn Jenner’s gubernatorial campaign has piled up debt, filings show, as the celebrity and former Olympian struggles to make headway in California’s recall race. From the launch of Jenner’s candidacy through the end of July, the campaign raised about $747,000 and spent some $910,000, leaving her campaign with about $156,000 in unpaid bills and roughly $21,000 on hand for the race’s critical final stretch. More than a quarter of that money has flowed to fundraising platform WinRed and to enlist the services of former [Donald] Trump campaign hand Brad Parscale. … Among Parscale Strategy’s reported spending was a $1,800 ‘staff meeting’ at Nobu, a fancy Malibu restaurant, and $1,300 for a limousine service that ferried Jenner to Los Angeles meetings.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is weaponizing the August recess to advance President Biden’s agenda. 

  • “With the upper chamber closing in on Biden’s [bipartisan infrastructure plan] and readying a budget to set up a companion $3.5 trillion domestic spending plan, the majority leader is letting the simple threat of his members missing state fairs and overseas delegations drive the result. August in Washington isn’t any senator’s idea of a good time,” Politico’s Burgess Everett reports.
  • “So while the Senate is scheduled to leave town later this week, Schumer is set to blow through the previously scheduled start to recess, and beyond. He’s betting it won’t take long for senators to get so tired, and miss enough events back home, to dramatically speed up the Senate’s endgame on the infrastructure bill it’s currently considering — not to mention a budget set to follow it that would end with an all-night vote-a-rama.”

Biden’s big attempt at equity in agriculture may be hitting a dead end.

  • “A string of legal defeats for a groundbreaking program to forgive the debts of minority farmers is presenting the Biden administration with a stark choice. It can continue the fight and risk further setbacks or give up and disappoint activists and lawmakers who have championed the cause,” Politico’s Josh Gerstein and Ximena Bustillo report.
  • “The estimated $4 billion program is under siege by conservative legal groups — including one founded by close aides to Trump — who have filed at least 13 lawsuits arguing the debt relief effort unconstitutionally discriminates on the basis of race.”
  • “So far, three different judges have issued preliminary injunctions blocking the program nationwide as litigation proceeds. The Justice Department could appeal, but hasn’t yet.”

The ACLU and the Biden administration will face off over migrant family expulsions. 

  • “The Biden administration and the American Civil Liberties Union said Monday that they have reached an ‘impasse’ over the expulsions of migrant families at the southwest border and are returning to federal court to ask a judge to rule on the issue,” Maria Sacchetti and Nick Miroff report. “The move abruptly ends months of closed-door negotiations as the ACLU pressed for an end to the continued expulsion of migrant families under a public health order the Trump administration imposed during the pandemic.”
  • “The Biden administration had signaled that it wanted to lift the expulsions order and reopen the nation’s asylum system to migrants, but the spreading delta variant and fast-rising numbers of illegal border crossings prompted officials to back off plans to lift the order.”
  • “The development puts new pressure on the administration at a time when authorities are facing an overcrowding crisis inside Border Patrol stations and holding facilities in South Texas. Republicans have criticized the administration for easing Trump-era restrictions, while advocacy groups are demanding that President Biden reopen the border to asylum seekers.”

“I would say it’s a significant step that we have hit 70 percent of people in this country, of adults, who are vaccinated. That’s a good sign. It will help protect communities. It will help protect families and save more lives. But we’ve said from the beginning, even as we set this goal, our work would not be done even when we reached it. And so we’re forging ahead,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said about the United States hitting Biden’s July Fourth vaccination goal a month later. 

The White House says the United States has sent 110 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine to over 60 countries. 

  • “The United States will be an arsenal of vaccines for the world and is acting with the same urgency to combat the virus abroad as here at home,” the administration said in a statement, Bryan Pietsch and Adela Suliman report.
  • “The majority of the vaccines were made in the United States, the statement said, and shipped through Covax, a World Health Organization-backed initiative to distribute vaccine doses equitably. Bangladesh, Colombia, Indonesia and the Philippines — all hard-hit with coronavirus cases — are among the countries receiving the highest number of donated vaccine doses.”
  • “The distributions fall far short of the 11 billion doses WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has previously said would be needed in order to ‘truly end the pandemic’ by vaccinating at least 70 percent of the world’s population by next year.”

Americans are suffering pandemic whiplash. 

  • “Monday was another day that underscored the crosscurrents for the nation’s leaders as their efforts at a disciplined public health campaign collided yet again with the chaotic nature of the pandemic. Instead of a consistent message, the result was another dizzying jumble of news stories and divergent announcements,” the Times’s Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Michael Shear report.
  • “In Louisiana, a state with one of the lowest vaccination rates, Gov. John Bel Edwards reinstated an indoor mask mandate, as did health officials in San Francisco and six other Bay Area counties. But in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio declined to do so, even though such a move would have been in line with C.D.C. guidelines.”
  • “The virus continued to scramble traditional politics. In left-leaning Chicago, city officials announced that more than 385,000 people had attended the four-day Lollapalooza music festival — and Mayor Lori Lightfoot defended it. In Washington, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina … announced that he had tested positive for the coronavirus, but said his symptoms had been mild, which he attributed to having received the vaccine.”
  • “Nationally, caseloads continued to climb. The country reported a daily average of nearly 80,000 new infections on Sunday, up from about 12,000 in early July.”
  • “Some experts say the C.D.C. is to blame for some of the confusion. After saying in May that vaccinated people could go maskless both indoors and outdoors, the agency did an about-face last week, once again recommending indoor masking for everyone — vaccinated or not — in places where the virus is spreading rapidly. … A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the administration’s thinking, conceded on Monday that many Americans remained perplexed after the flurry of sometimes difficult and seemingly contradictory information.”

Tennessee won’t incentivize coronavirus vaccines, but it does pay to encourage cow vaccinations.

  • “Tennessee has sent nearly half a million dollars to farmers who have vaccinated their cattle against respiratory diseases and other maladies over the past two years. But Republican Gov. Bill Lee, who grew up on his family’s ranch and refers to himself as a cattle farmer in his Twitter profile, has been far less enthusiastic about incentivizing herd immunity among humans,” the AP reports.
  • “Even though Tennessee has among the lowest vaccination rates in the country, Lee has refused to follow the lead of other states that have offered enticements for people to get the potentially life-saving Covid-19 vaccine. Lee hasn’t always been against incentivizing vaccinations.”
  • “Tennessee’s Herd Health program began in 2019 under Lee, whose family business, Triple L Ranch, breeds Polled Hereford cattle. The state currently reimburses participating farmers up to $1,500 for vaccinating their herds, handing out $492,561 over the past two fiscal years.”

Prominent civil rights leaders the Revs. Jesse L. Jackson and William J. Barber II were among about 200 people arrested outside the U.S. Capitol on Monday while protesting for Congress to end the filibuster, protect voting rights and raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour,” Ellie Silverman reports. “The movement is part of a series of weekly ‘Moral Monday’ protests across the country launched in July and organized by the new Poor People’s Campaign, the resurgence of a movement organized by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. before his death in 1968. Monday’s protest comes two weeks after the group rallied outside the Supreme Court and on the heels of a four-day march from Georgetown, Tex., to Austin.”

“More than 100 state legislators from more than 20 states also converged in Washington on Monday to urge the Senate and Biden to support voting rights legislation and are scheduled to rally outside the Capitol on Tuesday.”

Fox News’s Tucker Carlson will speak at a far-right conference in Hungary. “Carlson will deliver a speech, appropriately titled ‘The World According to Tucker Carlson,’ this coming Saturday at MCC Feszt, a far-right conference in Budapest that is backed by Hungary’s authoritarian prime minister, Viktor Orban,” the Daily Beast reports. “The news of Carlson’s appearance follows an apparent meeting between the Fox News star and Orban, as a friendly photo posted to the leader’s Facebook page revealed on Monday that Carlson had hosted Orban on his online show for Fox Nation.”

Biden and Vice President Harris will meet with Latino community leaders today at 1 p.m. to discuss the administration’s economic agenda, immigration reform and voting rights. They will also commemorate the second anniversary of the 2019 mass shooting in El Paso. 

At 3:45 p.m., the president will deliver remarks on the administration’s fight against the pandemic. 

Katie Ledecky’s historic week, visualized

Katie Ledecky has raced four freestyle qualifying heats, a semifinal and five finals for a total of almost four miles in six days. By the time she clocked out on Saturday, she had added four medals to her collection. Artur Galocha and Bonnie Berkowitz report on Ledecky’s historic week, day by day.

Simone Biles returned to the Olympics this morning, winning a bronze medal on the balance beam. “Biles returned to competition in time for the balance beam final, and that became her triumph of these Games. She withdrew from all of the previous medal competitions because her mental well-being plunged to an extent that she no longer felt safe performing these routines she had perfected for so long. This beam routine, though, gave her one more opportunity to compete during the final women’s gymnastics event of the Tokyo Olympics,” Emily Giambalvo reports. “[Biles] mounted the beam, delivering not her best or most difficult performance but one that showcased poise in a stressful moment. She earned a 14.000, enough for the bronze — the seventh Olympic medal of her career and one that represents a moment of pride at the end of a whirlwind trip to Tokyo.”